___WORDS FROM ME_____________________________________

this land of shadow

It’s September and the seasons are shifting, we’re moving from one world to another. Summer’s fading. The first chills of autumn have been slipping in beneath the warmth of the sun. The trees have begun to light up.

I have a new story out. It’s appropriate, sort of, for the time of year when the seasons shift, when we move from one world to another.

It’s a piece called “This Land of Shadow” and it’s been on my hard drive for quite a while. Why so? Because I’ve never been entirely sure what to do with it. There was no obvious market for the tale, even though it is a dark fantasy piece and there should have been somewhere for it. But it seemed to not quite fit anywhere.

And then I found NewMyths.com. Suddenly I had somewhere to send it, and send it I did. And showing either very good taste or a major lapse in judgement (depending on your taste) editor Susan Shell Winston has published it in issue 28.

Here we have the opening:

Well, that’s done it.”
The tall man who had spent so much of his life confined and chained kicked out with his boot, connecting with the flat. It was something that for ordinary folks could have been a mild inconvenience, a problem solved by a jack and tyre-wrench. But this boat didn’t carry a spare. You opened the trunk and there was nothing but a mocking emptiness, like the grin of a toothless idiot mugged for a wallet containing only a library card.

If you’d like to carry on reading the tale, all you gotta do is click here. I hope you like it. Thanks to Susan for selecting and editing it, and to Scott T Barnes for publishing it.

And if you’d like to read the answers to some questions put to me on the NewMyths.com website – and see a picture of Millie the dog – you can click here.

(For those of you who were wondering, Millie’s the one who isn’t wearing the sunglasses. Yeah, yeah – feel free, mock on . . .)

a song about the end of the world

So here’s a wee piece of flash fiction. A Song About the End of the World’s a whimsical piece about the end of the world, whales, witches, and failing at flying broomsticks. In a moment of weakness, Charles Christian, a dashing fellow if we’re to believe his picture hasn't been photo-shopped, very kindly included it in his online zine, freshly re-branded from GrievousAngel to SciFi-and-Fantasy.land. Give him your support by reading the stuff he puts up there.

Here’s the opening paragraph of my tale:

My girlfriend told me the world was going to end. She’d heard about it from the whales. She understood their song and had been listening in while she took a bath, surrounded by scented candles. 

The story’s a short one, a scant few hundred words, so it won’t take you long to read. It might make you smile, it might not make you smile. The only way to find out is to sweep your eyes over it and see.

To do that, all you gotta do is click here.

so below, so above

Sometimes stories come out of songs, or the atmosphere of a song pervades a piece to such a degree you can almost hear it playing in the background. Sometimes they don’t. This one didn’t. But now I think back on it, it could quite easily have done. Had I been playing Dream Academy’s 80s hit single “Life in a Northern Town” (which I very often do), it may well have seemed like a good fit for this story.

It’s a piece called “So Below, So Above” and I’m not sure where the main metaphor came from. Probably it came out of the need to find some light on a glum day in a northern town in Yorkshire. I’m not sure that worked.

Here’s the opening paragraph:

There’s not much that can be said for the town. It’s an old, weary hub in the north, into which drift the snows of the Pennines through winter, the rain of the grey skies through autumn, and the fog of the High Peaks on scattered weekends throughout the year. Beauty momentarily passes over the town in spring, when something wonderful marches down from the high hills, warmth and the first teasing scent of summer promises that will never be fulfilled. But mostly it just rains and the buildings and the people sag into grey blurs.

It’s not all doom and gloom, I promise you. But there aren’t many laughs in it, I’ll grant you that.

The kindly folk at Literary Hatchet have put it in Issue 9. (Thanks, Stefani!)

You can download a copy of the magazine for free by filling in the online form, or you can pay for a print version. It’s as true for all the other issues as it is about issue 9, so there’s a lot to keep you busy if you’re wanting something to read. To do that, all you gotta do is click here.

mad scientist journal, spring 2014 ebook

Anyone who's been reading this blog -- which I reckon amounts to two guys in the Australian Outback and a mule somewhere in the deep forests of Montana -- might remember I had a short story called "We Shall Make Monsters" up on the Mad Scientist Journal site earlier this year. You can still read that tale, completely free of charge, by clicking here.

But if you'd rather read the piece on your trusty e-reader, along with the other tales that appeared in spring of this year, then you can buy for very little money a copy from Smashwords here. Or by going to Amazon.co.uk here. In a few weeks' time, the tale should blow through onto the Kobo store. I'll put in a direct link when it's appropriate.

Jeremy Zimmerman and Dawn Vogel have done the editing and compiling. Big cheer for them and raise your glass in their honour.

dr aljimati, professor of the forlorn sky

The good folks over at Bad Dream Entertainment have been kind enough to publish one of my short stories. Editor in-chief Brett Reistroffer (here's one of his short stories) went the extra mile in helping out with a good edit. (I didn't know, for instance, that the plural of ballast is ballasts. You learn something new every day. Brett caught my mistake - among other bits and pieces that needed a twiddle - thus helping to make me look better, and there's nothing finer that an editor can do for you than to make you look sweeter and smarter. Thanks, Brett!) The story's all the better for his guiding hand.

Anyway, my short story is called "Dr Aljimati, Professor of the Forlorn Sky," and here're the opening paragraphs.

I’m near the barrier before La Vite comes in. I’m here early. The crowds will arrive later. They will gasp and sigh at the lines of the rail network’s answer to supersonic passenger flights.
Beside me is a dusky coloured man in a tired suit that doesn’t quite fit. It’s worn to a shine at the elbows and knees, mottled across the shoulders with what I imagine is chalk-dust rather than an excess of dandruff. Through professional necessity I’ve become something of a people watcher, and I take this gentleman’s measure from the edge of my eye, fielding more direct glances as I pretend to look around the station concourse. If he notices me watching him, he doesn’t appear to care.

You can carry on reading by clicking here.

I hope you do, and I hope you like it.

questions and answers

I have a tale due for publication on (or is that in? I'm never entirely sure) NewMyths.com come September. It's a piece called "This Land of Shadow", a sort of fantasy piece. In the meantime I was asked to answer some questions, and those answers have been uploaded to the net.

You can read what I said here.

Also, as if that wasn't enough for you, there's a picture with Millie dog in it too. So come on, how can you refuse to click on the link?

the mourning worm

New from Firbolg Publishing, available in handsome hard- and soft-cover editions as well as in Kindle ebook format, is an interesting anthology with the natural world and the dangers of eco collapse at its heart.

Enter at your own Risk: The End is the Beginning is edited by Dr Alex Scully and contains reprint tales by some of the great luminaries of fantastic fiction, such as Edgar Allan Poe, HP Lovecraft, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Mary Shelley. As well as pieces from the greats, there is newer work as well, from the likes of Norman Partridge, Gary A Braunbeck, Gene O’Neill, Lawrence Santori and even newer work from others – all or any of whom may, at some future date, be regarded as masters of the genre too. Holly Newstein provides an introduction. 
But because there’s always something to spoil what could amount to perfection, I have a tale in there as well. Hey, you can’t have everything. My piece is called “The Mourning Worm”.

It starts like this:

Suzanne and I drove from the city on a Friday afternoon to arrive at my old friend Benjamin’s house, which he shared with his young wife Robyn, deep in the Wiltshire countryside.
Willowhart was an old cottage. Hundreds of years scored its piebald walls and its roof sagged in repose like an elderly cat enjoying the sun. It was recently renovated, though from external appearances you wouldn’t have credited the place with the modern luxuries we’ve grown used to in our Corbusier Habitats. It looked rundown, unloved even, which could not have been farther from the truth.
Our get-together was much anticipated, easily worth the rigmarole of the official barriers we had to cross to make it happen. Spending time amidst lush forests that might have favoured one of my fantasy novels was an enchanting bonus.
It was only when we were safely in bed that night, as dull chimes from the distant church bells rolled across the woodland, that Suzanne raised her concerns.

If you’re so minded, you can read the rest by buying a paperback copy in the UK here, or a Kindle ebook edition here. In the States, the paperback’s available here, while you can get the Kindle version here.

Gregory L Norris, who provides a tale called “Every Seven Years, Give or Take”, has his own blog, and he’s got a few of us (mostly the still living contributors) to offer up a few titbits of information about the stories we’ve written, background info, that kind of thing. If you so fancy, you can read that here.

If you want to read up on the thoughts of some of the writers behind some of the tales, click here.

And there's a review of a previous Enter At Your Own Risk anthology. Here it is.

a considerate invasion

It’s my very real pleasure to say that I have a short story in the latest issue of Bastion SF Magazine. Bastion’s a new player in SF, and my piece just missed out on appearing in the inaugural edition. Hopefully that means I bypassed any bugs and traumas involved in the production of the first issue, and led to the smooth passage through editing and rewriting that my tale underwent. It’s always good to get feedback from editors who want to improve a tale, and work with you to improve it. That’s what happened here.

Anyway, it’s a piece called “A Considerate Invasion,” and I rather like it. I don’t really do “blast em up” SF – though I’ve no real objection to the form and don’t rule out having a go at some point – so this is a quiet and hopefully thoughtful piece. Here’s how it begins.

Even though he’d seen plenty of pictures of them before, what surprised Ashton Clarke the most about the Mernons’ flyer was that it looked exactly like a 1950’s UFO. Almost everyone his age knew the type, with the bulge of the dome on top and a few ports studded equidistantly around it for windows. A sharp rim that made up the saucer effect traced the circumference, coming to a leading point at the front like a dolphin’s nose, and there were a couple of stylish fins around the back of the craft, where hazy vents of radiation blurred the air.
As it descended through the train of white clouds spotting the otherwise clear sky and came down towards him, Ashton realised it was even glitzed out in the bright and gaudy colours from that decade of atom bombs and creature-feature movies.
Fiery reds, cerulean blues, and daffodil yellows shone from the craft in the sunlight. Ashton rather disdainfully thought it looked like a drag-car enthusiast had painted it.
He spat on the ground and waited.

There’s a sample from the magazine: “The Endless Flickering Night” by Gary Emmet Chandler, which you can find on the current issue page too, to whet your appetite.

You can get the magazine in ePub and Mobi formats for the ereader of your choice. Or as a PDF for reading on a tablet or computer. Details here.

we shall make monsters

And now free to read on Mad Scientist Journal, there's my short steam-punk(ish) story, We Shall Make Monsters*. This piece has had an interesting non-publishing history, killing every anthology and magazine it's been accepted by, so that, incredibly, some many years after it was first written, this is its first appearance anywhere. Depressingly, it's still sort of relevant to today's music scene.

Anyway, fingers crossed, Mad Scientist Journal won't succumb to any bad magic now they've taken this piece!

After the fictional accreditation, the story begins thus:

Enough time has now elapsed that I might finally reveal my part in the whole sorry StepFor’d affair. Like the last grains of sand sliding from one bulb of an hourglass to the next, I feel my life slipping away. If I am to give an explanation–or perhaps some would see it as a confession–then it should be here and it should be now, before it is too late and the chance to do so has passed.

From the outset, I would have it known that I was not the sole creator of “the clone bands.” However, I accept that turning the tide of public opinion so late in the day is no easy matter and that blame will be more easily laid at my feet–solely at my feet, if you will forgive the pun–rather than spread among those others involved. It is the way with the masses, and believe me, I should know the masses after I have spent so long exploiting them.

Yet the truth remains that I was not alone in my actions; I was not the only one responsible for what followed. My remaining hope is that people accept this. Perhaps, in time, it will be so.

The whole of what follows will be dispassionately relayed, dictated on my mechanical word-loom with an eye only for detail, neither recrimination nor redemption an aim. Just the truth.

This is my testimony.

You can read the rest of it for free here.

An ebook of the Mad Scientist Journal anthology, containing We Shall Make Monsters, will be available at a later date.

* And yes, well spotted those of an eagle-eye. The title's taken from a line from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Hush now, no spoilers . . .

tied up good and true

I have a new short story in David Longhorn's excellent Supernatural Tales journal. It's about 4,000 words long, and it's called "Tied Up Good and True". It's one of those stories that came about when the title popped into my head. It felt like it needed exploring.

Here's how the story starts:

Where to begin on Mulberry's cruelties?
          The list of his misdemeanours was a long one, and the reading of it fit only for those whose eyes had been hardened to the terrible deeds one human being could inflict upon another. Even then I would be loath to suggest that such a soul could come away untroubled from its study.
Some records are appalling and best consigned to lead-lined vaults, never to be opened; and yet, come the time it ended, by comparison Mulberry’s file would need burying beneath a volcano. It was already filled with the most devious of exquisite tortures, some small, some large, from his early years on into adulthood. For pages and pages that list extended in a lexicon of injustices, itemising paltry cruelties and twists of relished vindictiveness, underscoring hurts and slanders administered with volatile delight. And that was only the beginning. Come its incomplete end (and it should be said that the list was only incomplete because there was potentially so much more to come, Mulberry being not yet out of his middle years and his imagination not truly unleashed), butchers would put away their cleavers and take up brushes to paint bucolic watercolour scenes. Warmongers would plant flowers in the muzzles of their weapons and throw away their uniforms of hateful conflict for ever.
The truth was clear: to the mortal eye there was not a smidgen of loveliness about Mulberry's crimes, however original they might be and no matter how much they were performed with a creative flourish. He was an adept little monster, a practitioner of stealing dreams and replacing them with nightmares. And he did it in the worst ways he could conceive.

And it carries on after that.

If you'd like a copy, then there's a link through here.

an insatiable hunger for cats

Proving that the Internet contains something for almost everyone, the guys over at Bizzarocast have kindly put a reading up of my short story, "An Insatiable Hunger For Cats". It's Episode 45 of their on-going mission to make people's ears turn inside out and their eyes question the reality of all they see.

The tale begins like this:

My hunger for cats started when I was young. That need, I guess you could call it a taste for things feline, stayed with me through my teens and now, years later, it’s still a part of me, no matter how many people disapproved along the way or tried to beat it out of me – like my father for instance, who took to walloping me regular, so that I got to thinking he liked doing that almost as much as I liked sniffing after cats.  

Listen to this and the rest by clicking here.

Readings can make or break a piece of fiction, and I think Chris brings a great "waster" drawl to the piece that's just perfect for the story. And it's a darn sight more listenable to with his voice than anything my flat Yorkshire vowels could produce. 

The story starts about 25 minutes into the cast, for non-regulars of the podcast who just want the fiction. And you can download it for free from I-Tunes. Or support the guys by making a donation to their site by clicking on the appropriately titled Donate button.

the weather calms down

And this is the weather calmed down . . .

Hythe Bay, near Folkestone

Waves arriving

Martello Towers looking pretty secure

the beardy one


When everything's done, with hindsight playing its part, the human need to find patterns and to put meaning into the ineffable, you look for signs and see things that aren't there.

Reading the final SF novel of Iain M Banks, The Hydrogen Sonata, with its transcendence maguffin, and then his final mainstream book, The Quarry (as Iain Banks), in which one of the main characters is dying of cancer, you could be forgiven for thinking that Banks's subconscious had some inkling that he wasn't well long before the doctors found what was ailing him. Maybe that was the case. For all that Banks heavily pre-planned his novels, that creative spark – what we happily call inspiration – comes from somewhere indefinable. And yet we all have it to some extent. However we express it, or chose not to, somewhere inside we often know ourselves better than we would sometimes care to.

But I'm talking with hindsight, trying to find a pattern and meaning to help explain why Iain (M) Banks is no longer here.

Maybe as he said in his final televised interview, it's just bad luck.

I was going to chat a bit about Banks's work here, but frankly bigger and better brains than I possess have done so  elsewhere, and done it better than I could have done. I doubt there's anything of worth that I could add to their thoughts. I'll just content myself by saying that with his too-soon death his final works contain a poignancy as well as all the dazzling pyrotechnics of an astounding imagination and talent.

I was lucky enough to meet Banks a few times. Mostly at book events, but once at a magazine rack, where we both reached for the latest New Scientist at the same time and started chatting. Banks was open, friendly, and possessed no airs that I could detect. He was as happy to talk books and “stuff” at the magazine rack as he was at book signings and readings. So many others have said something similar, and it's not something to forget: with a healthy air of self-deprecation and a strong sense of humour, he was that rarest and most honourable of things - a nice guy. Sometimes you can't say fairer than that.

Cheers, Iain.

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